Madrid, July 9, 2003 - Serbia and Montenegro faced a fierce opponent in their second clash in the finals of the FIVB $15 million World League on Wednesday when hosts Spain brought with them their starting six, plus a seventh powerful ally - some 8000 fans roaring from the stands of this converted bullfighting ring in the Spanish capital.
Regrettably for Spain it was not enough to repel the more experienced and higher ranked opposition who walked off 3-1 (25-19.25-20, 20-25, 18-25) winners.
"This was a very good match for us, perhaps one of the best in this World League," said Serbia and Montenegro's captain Nikola Grbic. He said they had made mistakes in the third set when they expected Spain to "give up". "But they are good and they stayed in the game," he added.
But the match was as passionate as any confrontation this stadium has seen before, as the charismatic Rafael (Rafa) Pascual, the galleon figure of the Spanish side, was determined to keep his players in the running.
Olympic champions Serbia and Montenegro held their own in the first set but it wasn't easy with emotions running at high tide on both sides and the first set score at 21-18 for the visitors. Serbia and Montenegro closed the set with a combination of Ivan (The Terrible) Miljkovic'c superb fire power and more than a little nervousness from the Spanish side.
Spain hung on to the coattails of the more experienced opposition and the cries of "Olé, Olé! Olé, olé olé, Olé!!" rang to the rafters when they equalized at 13-all in the second. But playing the European and Olympic champions, whose skills are obvious and whose mantle of volleyball tradition sits well on their shoulders, is never easy and Serbia and Montenegro sealed the second set 25-20.
Spain was 11-7 in front in the third and running on high-octane adrenalin. They kept the advantage to 18-14, bringing the house down when "Rafa" levitated to smash home Spain's 20th point. Vladimir Grbic netted to give Spain their 22nd point but his brother Nikola retaliated to bring the visitors to 22-19. But it was Rafa again that gave set point to Spain and Carlos Luis Carreno converted the block and Spain clambered back into the match 2-1.
Spain leveled at 11-all in the vital fourth then big gun Andreija Geric stole two quick points for Serbia and Montenegro. That was the turning point and, to the disappointment of Spain, the Blues walked off the victors.
"It is very difficult to play against one of the best teams in the world," admitted Pascual at the end of the match. "But we hope to make it to the semis, because we have played well and we deserve it."
Spain still has one more chance to reach the final four on Thursday, but they face a tough and talented opponent in the Czech Republic who, on Wednesday delivered a second defeat to Greece to spoil their chances of advancement. The Czech Republic, who topped Pool D in the Intercontinental Round, is making a spectacular debut at the World League and they will enter Thursday's match sober and determined to spoil Spain's party.
Earlier Wednesday Brazil humbled Russia 3-1 for their second victory and top of the table, but they face Italy on Thursday and if they go down and Russia beats Bulgaria and may also claim a second victory. Serbia and Montenegro meet Greece in their last encounter.